Coronavirus: information and updates

Dealing with negative attitudes on public transport

Some people may seem to doubt your right to use the same travel services as them. But you have every right to access the same service, and this is protected by law.

Your rights as a disabled passenger on public transport (GOV.UK)

If you come across negative attitudes to you as a disabled passenger, here are some things you can try to help manage stressful travel situations.

Some negative attitudes you might face

Most people will treat you with respect and as a fellow passenger. Others might just be concerned about whether you need help. They might ask questions about how you are or if you need help. This can be annoying, but it’s at least well-meaning.

People might:

  • talk about you based on the equipment you are using (such as a wheelchair or mobility scooter)
  • talk about your impairment or condition (for example if you are partially sighted and use a mobile phone while holding a cane)
  • not believe that you are disabled (if you have a non-visible impairment)
  • tut, sigh, swear or roll their eyes at you

Staff on public transport should be helpful and understanding. They might be rude or insensitive sometimes without meaning to be. You can challenge this or you can choose to ignore it.

Asking staff for help on public transport

Face masks on public transport during coronavirus

Everyone in England has to wear a face mask on public transport unless you’re exempt because of health reasons.

If you cannot wear a mask and someone challenges you about it, try to explain that some people do not have to wear one. This includes:

  • children under 11
  • people with breathing difficulties
  • people with a condition or impairment that makes it hard to communicate or keep a mask in place
  • people travelling with someone who relies on lip reading

Face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)

If explaining is difficult, you could try showing an exemption card.

Exemption cards and badges (GOV.UK)

'Please give me space' social distancing cards and badges (GOV.UK)

Print your own exemption cards to use in public (PDF)

Buy an exemption card and lanyard (Disability Horizons)

Warning If you are being abused or are in danger

You can call the British Transport police on 999 or discreetly text them on 61016. Always call 999 in an emergency.

Manage things in your own way

You might feel able to confront people with negative attitudes directly. If you are confident talking about disability with new people, this might help.

For example, if someone is staring at you

You may choose to start a conversation with them or you may try to ignore it.

Finding ways to stay calm

You can develop ways of dealing emotionally with negative attitudes. See what works for you. You could try:

Confronting negative attitudes

If someone is making you feel uncomfortable, you can choose to confront them, for example if they are saying abusive things. Depending on the situation, you may decide that the best thing is to ignore it.

You have the right to travel without being harassed. If people do not recognise this, you also have a right to stick up for yourself. If you feel comfortable and safe in doing so, talk to them.

Asking for help

Many people on public transport are likely to be kind and willing to help.

Asking people for travel help and advice when travelling

You can also talk to train staff about it if they are nearby or call the train company’s customer service line.

Talking to staff on public transport when you need help

Decide whether you can ignore the situation. On a short journey, it may be better to report it once you are out of the situation.

If you are feeling unsafe, you can use the emergency call button to speak to the driver.

On buses, you can speak to the driver when the bus stops. Ask them for help.

You may wish to tweet about what is happening. If you use the train company's Twitter handle in the post, they will often respond quickly to your message.

Complaining about public transport

You are not responsible for how other people behave

Experiencing negative attitudes can be distressing. But it’s important not to let a bad experience put you off travelling.

You are not responsible for other people’s attitudes or behaviour. It reflects on them, not you.

Other ways to travel

You have the same right to travel as everyone else. As a last resort, you may decide that you’re more comfortable travelling a different way. For example, if people behave negatively towards you on trains, you might to choose to travel by bus or taxi instead. But it’s your choice.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 04/05/2021

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